Ramp up stalling Covid booster roll-out, Boris Johnson urged

·4-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

Ministers have been urged to get a “grip” on ramping up the Covid jab booster programme as an Evening Standard analysis revealed how the virus is spreading among many families in a series of London boroughs.

It showed high rates of infections in children aged five to 14. Case rates were also noticeably high among adults in their early forties who are likely to have school-age children.

Some of the highest infection levels were in outer boroughs, many of them with a large proportion of families such as Richmond, Bromley, Kingston, Croydon and Barnet, and fewer young adults compared with some more central districts. As the virus spreads, a growing number of parents in their forties, and younger adults, are frustrated at not being able to book a booster jab after the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Sajid Javid raised hopes a week ago they would be able to do so quickly.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, said: “We want the Government to succeed, but the truth is that this is another case of Boris Johnson over-promising and under-delivering. Let’s hope they’ve finally got a grip and that the latest promises come to fruition.”

The number of boosters, or third vaccine doses for individuals vulnerable to Covid, being administered in London is rising and has now gone above two million, with around 50,000 being delivered a day, according to figures published on Sunday. However, people are still not able to book a booster three months after their second jab, despite the pledge to reduce this gap from six months. Mr Javid has vowed to put the booster programme on “steroids” and the Prime Minister said temporary jab centres would pop up “like Christmas trees” to meet the goal of all adults being offered a booster by the end of January.

Health chiefs expect the six-month gap to be lowered next week and for boosters to be gradually extended to adults below the age of 40.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The UK has one of the highest (vaccine) uptake rates in the world, with more than 85 per cent of adults double jabbed so far and more than 20 million people receiving a third dose or booster.

“Over the coming weeks hundreds of military personnel, 1,500 community pharmacy sites, additional hospital hubs and pop-up sites will help the NHS deliver these vital jabs at speed.”

A Tory source added: “We won’t take any lessons from Labour on how to roll out vaccines. They wanted to keep us in the European Medicines Agency — if we had listened to them our world leading roll-out would have been delayed.”

Will Huxter, director of London Covid Vaccination Programme, said: “The NHS is working flat out to open up the booster offer to more people, including those under 40 or who had their second dose less than six months ago.”

The programme is being ramped up in response to the threat from the Omicron variant, which scientists believe may evade vaccines to some degree but that they still offer good protection against hospitalisation and death from this mutation.

So far, 336 cases of Omicron have been confirmed in the UK, with just over 100 in London, with scientists believing that the real figure nationwide is probably around 1,000 to 2,000. The seven-day infection rate for London was 405 confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the week to November 30, up from 338 a week earlier. The rate was highest among 10 to 14-year-olds (953), followed by five to nine-year-olds (738), then 40 to 44-year-olds (575).

The rate for the 45 to 49-year-old age group, at 513, was almost as high as teenagers aged 15 to 19 (521), and above adults in their thirties.

But Richmond’s seven-day infection rate in the week to November 30 was 669 cases per 100,000, the highest in the capital. For children aged 10 to 14 the seven-day rate was a startling 1,924 per 100,000, and for five to nine-year-olds 1,602. Among adults aged 40 to 44 it was 878, and for those 45 to 49 it was 834. In Sutton the seven-day rate was 596, for children 10 to 14 (1,476), five to nine (1,513), adults aged 40 to 44 (817) and those aged 35 to 39 (653).

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